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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Today’s Reading |  Genesis 28:10–22

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place--and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.” (NRSV)

When this devotion was being composed, Fourth Church was in the midst of its annual stewardship appeal. Quite rightly, an analysis had been made of the financial needs of the church for operations and its plans for outreach and mission in the community and throughout the world. But is this the only measuring stick for our stewardship?

In today’s scripture passage Jacob (who was really not a very nice man!) is approached in a dream by a forgiving God who speaks to Jacob from atop a ladder coming down heaven. When Jacob awakens, instead of unconditionally accepting God’s promises and the assurance of God’s eternal presence, Jacob’s response seems conditional: If God would do everything God promised, then Jacob would make God his God and give God 10 percent of everything that Jacob received.

But is this really what Jacob meant, something conditional? Perhaps the translating of Jacob’s response misstates his true intent. Thus, for a moment, let’s give Jacob a break and be so presumptuous as to paraphrase verses 20–22 in a way more favorable to Jacob: “God, since you have promised to care for me and be my God forever, therefore I will make you my God and give to you . . .” (Notice, this language is not conditional; Jacob promises to respond, regardless.)
This amendment perhaps not only clarifies Jacob’s true intentions but also makes this passage a scriptural prelude to one of the foundations of our Christian faith: God’s love and promises come to us unconditionally.

Thus, when we consider God’s blessings in our lives and God’s assurance of God’s eternal presence, is 10 percent really enough?

Heavenly Father, we are thankful for your many blessings and for the comfort that comes from knowing that you are always with us, even to the end of the age. Amen.

Written by Barlow Nelson, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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